It’s a popular myth that right-wing extremism has killed more Americans on domestic since the 9/11 attacks than violent jihadists.
The New York Times even put forth the claim with this chart:
It may have all started with the opinion piece “U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists,” which was echoed by journalist Sally Kohn. NPR interviewed the authors of the CNN story under the headline “Right-Wing Extremists More Dangerous Than Islamic Terrorists In U.S.”
The New America study was the basis for the reported statistic, which is repeated widely. The study is hosted by the International Security Program, whose backers include George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.
Before proceeding any further, it should be mentioned that Politifact examined the New America statistic and stated that it was “half-true.”
So, is the claim true? A professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville recently dissected the terrorism cases and has shredded the finding that right-wing extremists are deadlier than violent jihadists in the United States.
Professor Andrew Holt lays out why the coding criteria, and thus, the comparisons are apples-to-oranges:
The problem with this source, as I see it, is that the count is wrong.
In International Security’s listing of the 45 deaths due to Islamic extremism, they attribute them to only nine incidents since 9/11. These include the more well-known attacks, such as San Bernardino (14 dead), Chattanooga (5 dead), Fort Hood (13 dead), the Boston Marathon Bombing (4 dead- with 264 additional casualties, I might add), as well as the Washington and New Jersey killing spree (4 dead), but also the Oklahoma beheading of 2014 (1 dead), the Little Rock Shooting of 2009 (1 dead), the Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting of 2006 (1 dead), and the Los Angeles Airport shooting of 2002 (2 dead).
So this is where they stop, but if we are comparing Islamic extremism to right wing extremism, apples to apples (and, to give credit to International Security, they acknowledge this is subjective on their website) then there are several others incidents that should be included in this total.
Professor Holt finds at least six more events that the study did not attribute to violent jihadism.
The professor discovered that when you add in the numbers from several terrorism cases driven by Islamist intent, the scales tip. Via The College Fix:
In June of 2006 in Denver, a man shot four of his co-workers and a swat team member, killing one. He later claimed he did it because it was “Allah’s choice.” In December of 2009 in Binghamton, a Saudi Arabian graduate student named Abdulsalam S. al-Zahrani killed Richard T. Antoun, a non-Muslim Islamic studies professor who served on al-Zahrani’s dissertation committee, in revenge for “persecuted” Muslims. Prior to the killing one of al-Zahrani’s roommates tried to warn the university administration that he had been acting “like a terrorist.” In 2012 in Houston, in two separate incidents in January and in November, two people were shot to death by a Muslim extremist for their roles in his daughter’s conversion to Christianity. In March of 2013 in Ashtabula (Ohio), a Muslim convert walked into a Christian Church during an Easter service and killed his father, claiming it was “the will of Allah.” In August of 2014 in Richmond (California) killed an Ace Hardware employee by stabbing him seventeen times, claiming he was on a “mission from Allah.”
These six murders are irrelevant, if you take the New America study at face value, yet tilt the balance towards jihadists being deadlier than right-wing terrorists: 50 fatalities to 48, respectively. Why the discrepancy?
The New America study does not count violent jihadist attacks from self-radicalized or “lone wolf” terrorists who swear allegiance to Islam in the same manner as terrorist attacks committed by a card-carrying member of Islamist terror organizations. If a terrorist yells “Allahu Akbar!” before going on a murder spree, you see, that’s not enough.
However, when right-wing terrorist attacks are coded by New America, those are attributed in a loose manner to mere statements made by the perpetrators that fit the left-wing’s shibboleth that racist or anti-government views define someone as a “right-winger.”
Thus, the conclusions are not only questionable, they are borderline deceptive. The professor concludes:
Right wing terrorism is more deadly for Americans only if you add a number of very limiting parameters (e.g. excluding the victims of 9/11, ignoring “lone wolf” attacks without solid connections to groups like al-Qaeda and their affiliates, etc…). But if you lift those limitations, and apply equal standards, then the raw and unfiltered numbers of deaths of Americans due to Islamic extremism in the United States over the last fifteen years dwarf the numbers attributable to right wing extremism by a ratio of over 62 to 1.
Even if you leave out 9/11 victims and just focus on the ideological statements and goals of the attackers, then the deaths of Americans due to Islamic extremism still outnumber the deaths attributable to right wingers (which reveals an even greater disparity when compared with population groups). If we move beyond America’s borders, then the disparity becomes far greater, with somewhere around 90% of the world’s terrorism related deaths attributable to Islamic extremism, and only a fraction of 1% attributable to right wing extremism.
The professor’s findings are consistent with terrorism incidents listed at non-partisan sources like the Global Terrorism Index and the Global Terrorism Database. It is certainly not true that “right wing extremists” kill more Americans than jihadists, or that they are “deadlier.”